May 6, 2019

Wynton Kelly Lost in Boston


In the 1950s and early ‘60s, Miles Davis had the band in modern jazz. If a musician played with Miles, it was practically automatic that record contracts would follow almost immediately. John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley among others went from being thought of as solid journeymen players to being literally stars seemingly overnight. While this super-stardom would elude some Davis alumni, basically all of Miles’ groups would have substantial careers after striking out on their own.

Pianist Wynton Kelly would play in the Davis group from march of 1959 through May of 1961. During this relatively brief period, Kelly would appear on several of Miles’ best acoustic era LPs, including on the first session of what would become the landmark LP Kind of Blue.

He would also appear on Someday My Prince Will Come and Miles Davis — In Person Saturday/Sunday at the Blackhawk. Throughout this time, Kelly would make numerous albums as a sideman as well as several LPs under his own name.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn from age four, Wynton Charles Kelly began his professional piano career when he was just twelve years old. At age sixteen, he played on a number one R&B hit (Hal Singer’s “Cornbread”) before going on to work with everyone from Babs Gonzales and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson to Dizzy Gillespie and Dinah Washington – all before making his first trio recording for Blue Note at age twenty.

Kelly would spend much of the early and mid 1950s with Dinah Washington before freelancing during the later part of the decade. After his tenure with Miles’ group, Kelly would form his own trio with two other ex-Miles Davis band members: bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Initially hiring themselves out as a rhythm section for other jazz stars, the trio would soon record for Verve Records, where they would record several LPs including the classic Smokin’ at the Half Note with Wes Montgomery.

The first half of the CD contains a broadcast from October 1967 featuring bassist Cecil McBee substituting for Paul Chambers on Charlie Parker’s composition “Confirmation” and the standards “Old Folks” as well as the ballad “Speak Low.”

Chambers returns for the second half – originally broadcast in March of 1965. He provides a particularly strong solo on “Blues on Purpose,” which also contains possibly Kelly’s best work on this CD.

Wynton Kelly, circa 1957. Shaw Artists Corporation/wikimedia

Wynton Kelly, circa 1957. Shaw Artists Corporation/wikimedia

On the last two tracks from 1965, the trio is joined by trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Eldridge was something of a transitional figure in jazz history and has been described as a bridge between the traditional style of Louis Armstrong and the bop modernism of Dizzy Gillespie. A regular with “Jazz at the Philharmonic” during the 1950s and ‘60s, “Little Jazz,” as Eldridge was known, can be heard on “Blues” and on the particularly pleasing medley of “Lady Be Good,” “Hackensack” and “Rifftide.”

Though they would only make one more trio recording (Wynton Kelly – Last Trio Session on Delmark, 1968), the late 1960s would find the trio supporting such jazz heavyweights as Joe Henderson and George Coleman. The relative few trio sessions by Kelly makes this release a very welcome addition to an admittedly small catalog of recordings.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at


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